How Sharing Lessons Learned is Key to Survival and Success



Sharing lessons learned effectively is key to survival.

The problem is, it’s not really obvious how important it is until lives are on the line.

In the book, Flawless Execution: Use the Techniques and Systems of America’s Fighter Pilots to Perform at Your Peak and Win the Battles of the Business World, James D. Murphy makes the case to share lessons learned.

He shares a particularly colorful story to illustrate the importance of sharing lessons learned.

Key Takeaways

Here are my key takeaways:

  • Feedback is a part of survival. Too many businesses don’t take survival seriously.  When the stakes are high, feedback loops are obvious.  Unfortunately, too many businesses end up dying a slow death because they don’t recognize how crucial their feedback loops are to their survival in the long run.
  • Feedback loops are too long.  If you’re not getting timely feedback to change your approach, your feedback loops are too long..
  • Impact isn’t obvious.  It’s tough to associate results to actual activities if the feedback loops are too long.

To Survive, Get Through Those First 10 Missions

Murphy shares a particularly colorful story to illustrate the importance of sharing lessons learned.

Murphy writes:

“Let’s go back in history. In Vietnam, if a fighter pilot could survive his first ten missions, there was a good chance he would survive 100 missions and go home to his family.

But the first ten missions were tough — most of the pilots lost were lost inside of ten missions.

To survive long enough to go home, a pilot first had to get through those initial ten missions.”

What I think this example above highlights is that you put a premium on transferring knowledge when the stakes are high and you see the immediate impact.

Unfortunately, I think in many business scenarios, the feedback loops are too long and the impact isn’t so obvious.

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  1. JD, I think it can can be compared to MTBF what James describes although it might sound cruel comparing people lives/death to MTBF…
    So what are your suggestions to shorten feedback loops to make it more impactful?

  2. To shorten feedback loops, I use a few practices. Rather than wait for a post-mortem at the end of a project, I encourage sharing lessons learned as we go along. I use light-weight techniques and chunk it up. For example, one approach is to start an email and dump lessons learned in the form of “do” this or “don’t” do that.

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